Year After Lightning Strike, Ocean Lifeguard Back on Beach

By July 27, 2015LACoFD News, LG News
Dr. Robert Kilroy, daughter Emily and Ocean Lifeguard Benjamin Gottlied talk with reporters about the lightning strike incident that left Kilroy in critical condition. Photo by Douglas G. Morrison.

A year after he was struck by lightning and revived by paramedics, recurrent Ocean Lifeguard Bob Kilroy is once again protecting beachgoers in Los Angeles County.

He was teaching his daughter how to surf in the ocean off Venice Beach on July 27, 2014, when a bolt of lightning from an unexpected summer storm struck, killing one person and injuring 13 others—including Kilroy, a 36-year veteran of the Lifeguard Division.

The lightning strike sent Kilroy into cardiac arrest. His daughter pulled him from the water, and Ocean Lifeguards Benjamin Gottlied and Cosmo Flynn began CPR. Los Angeles Fire Department paramedics arrived and transported Kilroy, who was in critical condition, to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.

Within a few months of the lightning strike, Dr. Bob Kilroy was back in the water. Photo courtesy Dr. Bob Kilroy.

Within a few months of the lightning strike, Dr. Bob Kilroy was back in the water. Photo courtesy Dr. Bob Kilroy.

Acting Deputy Chief Luke Claus, who has known Kilroy since they were both members of the California State University, Northridge swim team, visited Kilroy in the hospital.

“When Chief Claus came to visit me in the hospital, the first thing I said to him was … “‘Would this be considered a reasonable excuse for not getting in my minimum days?’” Kilroy said.

“He was good—surprisingly good,” said Claus.

Kilroy had “no doubts whatsoever” that he would return to the beach. In fact, he was discharged from the hospital after only four days.

“The first thing I did was get out (of the car), walk across to the beach and get my feet back in the water,” Kilroy said. By the end of the week, he was swimming, “and by the end of about a month and a half, I was swimming around the Venice Pier again.”

Nevertheless, by the time he was ready to go back to lifeguarding, the summer was over. Now, Kilroy swims a mile 5 – 6 times each week, and he passed the annual recurrent lifeguard swim re-check earlier this year—though he said it wasn’t his “most stellar performance.”

“I don’t like to let anybody even close to my age … beat me in the re-check swim,” he said. “This year … it was interesting. I didn’t swim as fast as I wanted to, but for being one of the oldest guys there, I (was) in the middle of the pack.”

Since then, he’s spent four days on the beach as a lifeguard, and he hopes to get at least 10 days in before the end of summer. The only residual effect from the lightning strike seems to be a slight numbness on the soles of his feet.

Still, he hasn’t stayed away from the beach. When lifeguards closed the beaches due to lightning at the end of June, he had just arrived at his beachfront home in Venice.

“I was taking my dog for a walk along the beach, and the truck saw me,” Kilroy said, laughing. “He drove by, and on the P.A. he said, “Kilroy! We closed the beach due to lightning. Please just go back inside!

“They had to tell me personally to get off the beach!”

Top featured image: Dr. Robert Kilroy, daughter Emily and Ocean Lifeguard Benjamin Gottlied talk with reporters during a news conference in 2014 about the lightning strike incident that left Kilroy in critical condition. Photo by Douglas G. Morrison.